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Pakistan Today Editorial – 12th February 2016

Living under the shadow of terrorism

And burying head in the sand

Both civilian and military agencies agree that despite a significant decline in terrorist attacks the threat of terrorism still looms large. As Gen Raheel Sharif told the Corps Commanders meeting on Thursday, this is a complicated war which can be won with unity and steadfastness. Similar views were expressed by the IB Chief in his presentation before a Senate Committee.

While there may not be any duly certified franchise of the IS functioning in Pakistan, those claiming affiliations with it remain active. They are reported to have recruited volunteers and dispatched them to Syria. As revealed by Punjab Law Minster in January, 42 persons claiming allegiance to IS were nabbed while trying to set up sleeper cells in the province. The IB chief considers the IS as an emerging threat because terrorist groups including TTP, SSP, and LeJ are coordinating with the financially resourceful and high profile network. It was with the help of its allies that the IS launched the attack on a newspaper office in Islamabad last month.

The civilian government is required to play a central role in containing urban terrorism. While there is a consensus on measures that need to be taken, what is lacking is a sense of urgency. Instead of recognising that much needs to be done to fully implement the NAP, the Interior Minister claims that it has already been implemented. The failure to get NACTA activated has forced the Prime Minister to rely totally on ISI. Despite concluding that there was a dire need to hold talks with the Baloch dissident leadership, the reconciliation process has yet to be placed on fast track. The federal government has failed to provide full funding for the rehabilitation of the IDPs and there is still no move to introduce the much needed FATA reforms. Little has been done to block terror funding in Sindh, Balochistan and KP. The low level of efficiency keeps the terrorist networks active and in good health.

Election reforms

EU’s subtle warning

Considering how election irregularities, and related agitation, have hovered over the present administration, the government should lend a serious ear to the recommendations of the EU’s Electoral Follow-up Mission. That half way into the cycle – which followed one of the country’s most controversial elections ever – the Mission has found numerous shortcomings, including ‘inadequate legal frameworks, reduced transparency, lack of confidence in ROs, etc’, says a lot about the government’s attitude towards electoral transparency. And since the Mission chief, Michael Gahler, who oversaw the ’08 and ’13 elections, has met almost all the big players in Islamabad – Senate Chairman, CJP, Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms, Chairman NADRA, etc – everybody is in the know about what needs to be done, and how soon.

Significantly, the EU messenger also carried a subtle, veiled warning for Pakistan. Electoral reforms were, after all, a central component of the government’s obligations in return for EU’s GSP-plus trade concessions. And considering how revitalising exports is another one of those un-kept promises from PML-N’s campaign trail, safeguarding this foot-in-the-door into the EU’s large textile market is essential to the revenue stream. This arrangement has already had to endure unnecessary pressure; from our resuming the death penalty to Dar sb’s novelty of bolstering the rupee with Saudi money.

Then there is also the political backlash that comes with disputed elections; as the PML-N found out at the height of the infamous dharna. Broken down as the system is, it behooves politicians that pride themselves for ‘saving democracy’ time and again to initiate urgent reforms and iron out problems that have caused repeated controversies. Anything less will not only keep the system inefficient and non-transparent, but also alienate important friends whose outreach we rely on to stay solvent. Pushing electoral reforms through, therefore, is not just smart politics at this time, but also sensible economics.

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